It would be hard to label anyone more aggressive in next year’s contest for the 27th Congressional District than Stefan I. Mychajliw Jr.
Almost nightly, the Erie County comptroller finds himself at some GOP picnic or county committee dinner as he eyes the seat now held by Republican Chris Collins, who is under federal indictment for insider trading.
But no other potential candidate may also feel more stymied.
As the GOP field begins to take shape more than 15 months before Election Day, Mychajliw finds himself constrained by his months of vocal support for Collins. Now he must watch from the sidelines as more candidates enter the fray and even Collins himself takes steps toward re-election.
The latest developments include:
• A brimming campaign treasury of almost $748,000 reported by State Sen. Christopher L. Jacobs, who has been raising money for weeks as an official candidate.
• Attorney Beth Parlato of Darien is slated to enter the contest in the next few days after already filming campaign videos and contacting Washington contributors.
• Several sources anticipate an announcement soon by State Sen. Robert G. Ortt of North Tonawanda.
• Collins has also complicated the situation for Mychajliw, a major Collins cheerleader regardless of the congressman’s legal difficulties. Collins last month dropped $500,000 of his own money into his campaign fund, very much raising the possibility of a 2020 candidacy.
Other candidates could also join, with most observers closely watching Medal of Honor winner David Bellavia, who has not ruled out reprising his 2012 primary candidacy. Indeed, Mychajliw now points to a possible Bellavia candidacy as the reason why nobody should make definite plans at this early point.
“Anybody throwing their hat in the ring now is slapping David Bellavia in the face,” Mychajliw said a few days ago. “People should wait for his decision.
“He deserves to take as long as he wants,” he added. “What else can you say about a guy who won the Medal of Honor?”
Even with a growing list of candidates, Bellavia’s silence is having its own effect. The influential chairs of county organizations as well as many donors are now expected to remain uncommitted as long as Bellavia remains a potential candidate.
Mychajliw, meanwhile, gained lots of Republican attention last year as Collins re-entered the 27th contest after initially dropping out following his Aug. 4 indictment. While never denying his eventual interest in the seat after all but declaring his candidacy just minutes after the Collins indictment, Mychajliw then appeared at the congressman’s side from Hamburg to Geneva during the renewed campaign events.
He met all of the district’s Republican leaders, introduced himself to thousands of voters, and laid the groundwork for a future run – all while extolling the need for Collins’ re-election as a Republican who would support President Trump’s agenda.
In addition, he enjoys widespread name recognition after winning three countywide races and as a former television reporter.
Now Mychajliw criticizes anyone – especially Jacobs – for joining a parade of candidates he insists is not passing him by.
“They should wait until Chris and David make a decision,” he said, acknowledging that Bellavia’s war hero status makes the conservative radio host and Trump supporter the favorite.
“There is no question David deserves the benefit of a clear shot at the nomination if he wants it,” he added.
But Bellavia is not talking politics as he tours the nation for the Army after receiving the medal from Trump during a June ceremony at the White House. Most observers around the district label him the nomination favorite should he decide to run, but also note he could wait as late as early January to make up his mind.
In the meantime, others are raising money and building staffs should Bellavia opt against a candidacy. And while Mychajliw remains a Collins supporter, he acknowledges that the congressman’s new infusion of personal dollars into his campaign kitty presents new complications.
“I’ve always said I will make my decision once Chris makes his,” he said. “He deserves space too. He’s an incumbent congressman.”
Mychajliw remains a long-time Collins friend and associate dating to the congressman’s first campaign against then-Rep. John J. LaFalce in 1998. He also served as spokesman for the former Erie County executive’s unsuccessful re-election campaign of 2011, and acknowledges he has always dwelled in the “orbit” of Collins and his political consultant, Christopher M. Grant.
Does he now feel helpless as potential rivals get a head start, especially in fundraising?
“Not in the least,” he said. “Here’s why: Chris Jacobs is like [failed presidential candidates] Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney on steroids. Jeb Bush spent $100 million and got nowhere. Money doesn’t mean a damn thing in this race.
“It’s going to be whether or not you’re a supporter of President Trump,” he added. “Once we turn on our fundraising machine, it’s going to crank.”